Additional Mental Health Help Coming For Vets

Nearly 2,000 Mental Health Professionals To Be Added To VA System

Nearly 40 percent of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have some sort of mental health issue and the Department of Veterans Affairs is rising to the challenge to help the vets.

 

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Lance Cpl. David Gerchman left the Marine Corps in 2010 but was not prepared to leave the war in Iraq behind.

"It gets to the point where you wake up enough times in the middle of the night with your rifle in your hand and you just… enough is enough," he said.

Gerchman isolated himself in his apartment and did not go out or talk to anyone. His symptoms were identical to other young veterans.

"We have a hard time with a lot of stuff coming back," he said. "You know, traffic, going through malls… stuff like that."

Recognizing the need, Veteran Affairs Secretary General Eric Shinseki is adding nearly 2,000 mental health professionals into the VA system.

Since 2007, the VA has seen a 35 percent increase in the number of veterans seeking mental health services. In San Diego, that number is only expected to go higher.

About 28,000 veterans separate from the service in San Diego County each year. Dr. Robert Smith, the San Diego VA director, said with the additional staff, the VA will be able to expand treatment, including offering one-to-one help via the computer.

"There may be times you have to come in and talk with a provider, but wouldn't you rather be able to talk to him in your own home?" said Smith.

Though Gerchman knew he needed help, he still had second thoughts about going to the VA.

"I thought they were going to lock me in a rubber room when I first got here," he said. "They didn't and all the bad things I had heard or expected turned out to be false. I'm glad I did what I did."

The VA hopes others will follow Gerchman's lead.

The VA in San Diego has 278 mental health professionals and support staff. Additional funding will add 37 more positions.